MILAN — On some runways in Milan, it almost felt like a high school reunion of sorts. But the sight of familiar and more inclusive models was actually just a sign of the times as a wave of diversity swept over the city during Fashion Week.
Case in point, Shalom Harlow and Stephanie Seymour bookended the Versace fall 2019 show, attended also by Amber Valletta, sitting front row. Donatella Versace said that, working on the fall collection, she wanted to “create something innovative and relevant to the cultural conversation of today.” At the same time, it needed to be “instantly recognizable” as Versace. Asking Seymour to close the show was an immediate decision for the designer. “An icon in the true sense of the word, but at the same time the emblem of my woman. Confident, daring, strong, smart,” said Versace of the model, who rose to supermodel-dom also thanks to the the Italian fashion house in the Eighties and Nineties.
Etro staged its fall 2019 show at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi, Italy’s largest music academy, and models including Edie Campbell, Alek Wek, Farida Khelfa, Jacquetta Wheeler, Liisa Winkler, Tasha Tilberg, Tatjana Patitz, Violetta Sanchez, Guinevere Van Seenus, Delfine Bafort, Adut Akech Bior, Fran Summers, Rebecca Laird and Gemma Ward walked under the arched colonnade of the building, all looking confident as guests cheered them on.
“I had been thinking about this for a while, but you must have a credible collection,” said Veronica Etro, of the New Romantics lineup. “ It can’t be forced and this would not have worked as much with the spring collection,” which was more sports-oriented-fun-in-the-sun. The historical location also helped, with its “timeless” atmosphere for “timeless” women, she said. Etro started working on the casting back in June. “We started early because when you have a clear idea it’s pointless to wait until the last minute,” and organizing the schedule of this group of women, who “accepted right away,” was no easy job.
“After all this is what happens in stores; we have one single line and mothers and daughters come in and the brand is interpreted depending on the different phases in the life of a woman,” said the designer. With a Nineties theme and British style, Etro tapped strong women, iconic former models, with whom she had worked two decades ago. “It was quite moving for me, these are real women, mothers with a past. It was nice to see them and they enjoyed seeing each other again. They haven’t changed, they were professionals back then and are still now but they have a past and a history. For sure, Etro has always had a multicultural [vein] that’s key to the brand and already in men’s wear, it’s ageless. I have always believed in this and this is now a trend, but it’s very personal for me.”
Etro said the models themselves chose the clothes to wear on the runway, opting for the looks that made them feel at ease. “I wanted them to interpret the clothes, to add their own personalities. It was all very natural as the collection is transversal. I find it beautiful to open up to different generations, but in a very natural way.” Etro also had another take on the issue. “In a digital moment where everything is perfect, there is a countertrend where what is real is seen in a different way.”
“Finally, there is a return to glamour and luxury after a moment of opaqueness,” observed Piero Piazzi, president of the global network of modeling agencies Women Model Management Worldwide, who has launched the careers of numerous fashion models ranging from Marpessa to Mariacarla Boscono, Carla Bruni and Lea T.
Piazzi said Etro’s show was “symbolic,” at a moment when brands want to convey the message that they are “totally accessible to all women.” Piazzi also noted that height is no longer a limitation, either. Asked if this inclusive trend originates from the brands, he said the requests come straight from the fashion houses, unsolicited.
Max Mara staged its fall show at Milan’s Bocconi University, and many of the future women leaders of tomorrow watched it from the floors above looking onto the runway, with a casting that included the likes of Eva Herzigová, Joan Smalls and Irina Shayk. “We have always thought that the Max Mara runway should reflect the reality of Max Mara,” said creative director Ian Griffiths. “For me, it’s fundamental that women should recognize themselves in what they see in the show, not a fantasy, and definitely an unattainable ideal that shuts them out. That applies to the clothes, of course, but equally to the casting. The Max Mara client is a strong woman, not a girl, and that determines the casting. This season’s collection, more than ever, was the idea of strong, unstoppable women.” Herzigová, Smalls and Shayk “project a quasi-regal self-confidence because they have learned to know themselves over the years,” continued Griffiths. “That sense of empowerment is inspiring. Max Mara is reaching out to a younger clientele, for sure, but it would be a massive betrayal of our story of empowering women to abandon those who have been wearing the brand for 20, 30 or 40 years, in their long struggle to the top. The message is inclusivity, in every sense.”
Andrea Cairo, vice president at IMG Models Milan, believes the return of models that have made history and the increasing number of different models in Milan over the past few seasons also lies in “the brands’ wish to diversify their show not only through their collection but also through its interpretation on the runway.” Cairo spoke of the transformation of luxury consumers, who “increasingly want to see the best versions of themselves represented on the runway, not only an aspirational look that is impossible to reach and often unreliable” in their mind. Those brands that are “sensitive to these requests listen to these consumers and it is all reflected also on the runway,” noted Cairo. Diversity and inclusivity are two “strong and important values that many clients and some agencies, such as IMG, are strongly supporting not only during fashion weeks but throughout the year.”
Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, president and chief executive officer of the Biagiotti Group, asked longtime friend of the family Pat Cleveland to close her fall 2019 show — something she had wanted for a long time, she said, noting that she believed Cleveland could embody “the dynamism, the confidence and positive energy that fashion can and must represent in the daily life of all women.” For this reason, she chose Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” as the soundtrack to Cleveland’s unmistakable walk — to which the public responded by singing and dancing along, driven by “her positive and contagious energy, which is what I want to transmit with the collections — greater confidence in yourself and freedom.” Biagiotti Cigna believes Cleveland’s style remains “more contemporary than ever,” and said that backstage, shortly before the show, “all the young models took selfies with her and asked her how to acquire that awareness that makes you unique.”
And it’s a two-way support. “I knew her when she was just a girl, she and her mother are like family and now Lavinia is carrying forward the company alone,” said Cleveland expressing her confidence in Biagiotti Cigna, who has been leading the company since the death of her mother in 2017.